Eagles' Villanueva 'feels like a football player again'

apalejandrovillanueva.jpg

Eagles' Villanueva 'feels like a football player again'

It’s been a while since Alejandro Villanueva could call himself a football player.

For Villanueva, a former U.S. Army captain who spent the past four years in the military (see story), the Eagles’ OTAs over the past three weeks have been the first time he's participated in football activities since a tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals following his senior season at Army in 2009.

“I feel like a football player again,” Villanueva said following the Eagles' OTA on Tuesday. “I feel like I’m doing all the requirements that all the other players are doing, so I feel like I’m part of the team.”

However, his time with the Eagles so far hasn’t had much in common with his football experience at Army.

At 6-foot-9 and 277 pounds, Villanueva’s size and speed were so uncommon for Army that his coaches were never quite sure how to best maximize his abilities. He played three positions in four years, starting off as a defensive lineman, developing into a starting left offensive tackle as a junior before converting to wide receiver as a senior and leading the team with 34 receptions, 522 yards and five touchdowns.

The Eagles have determined that his size will be best spent as a defensive end, a decision that is perfectly fine with Villanueva. After the constant shuffling in college, he is looking forward to finally being able to develop at one position.

“[Playing defense] is a lot different but the coaching has been great, so I’ve been able to learn from all of them,” Villanueva said. “If they think I have a better chance of playing defensive [line], I’ll play there.”

Having not played defense since the beginning of his sophomore year of college, Villanueva has relied heavily on his new teammates to learn defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ scheme, particularly two-time Pro Bowler Trent Cole and second-year defensive end Brandon Bair.

Although his height would seem to give him potential as a pass rusher, Villanueva has concentrated mostly on learning the run-stuffing techniques that come with playing defensive end in the 3-4.

“[Defensive line] coach [Jerry] Azzinaro has been adamant about the key points I can focus on,” Villanueva said. “In our scheme, striking and using my legs are those things. As we progress, hopefully I can put those things into play and improve from where I started.”

In reality, Villanueva’s focus is not on what position he plays as much as it is simply making the team.

A team captain his senior year at West Point, Villanueva's biggest adjustment has been adapting his mindset to fighting for a roster spot after being a key player in college.

Earning a spot on special teams will likely be his best chance to make the final roster; he spent much of Tuesday’s session practicing with the kick return unit.

“Playing football at Army is pretty special and obviously I have a lot more experience there,” Villanueva said. “[Playing for the Eagles] is a different situation. At Army I played four years and was always able to contribute and now I’m just trying to make the team.

“Making the team [is my goal], so if they put me on all the special teams that would be the best news.”

In his few weeks as an Eagle, Villanueva has already received numerous questions from his teammates about his time in the Army. He served three tours in Afghanistan during his four years of service.

Although he is eager to move on with this new chapter in his life as a professional athlete, Villanueva has no problem with teammates asking him about his past. If anything, the camaraderie in the locker room has been his favorite part of playing football again.

“Sometimes they ask about it (being in the army) when they have a question that’s been burning them,” Villanueva said. “Usually they have a question about how things are run. It’s a learning experience for a lot of them. My teammates have been awesome, so it’s been pretty fun overall.”

Eagles storylines at the 2017 owners meetings in Phoenix

Eagles storylines at the 2017 owners meetings in Phoenix

PHOENIX -- After a cold couple of weeks in Philly, Jeffrey Lurie and the Eagles' brass will get a chance to catch some rays this week. 

Lurie and the rest of the NFL's owners and decision-makers will meet this week at the lavish Arizona Biltmore resort. 

In addition to the actual meetings of the owners, the league's competition committee will look at 15 rule proposals, one of which was proposed and will be presented by the Eagles. Lurie is expected to speak to reporters for the first time in a year. 

And, of course, the annual coaches breakfasts will take place extremely early on Tuesday and Wednesday. The AFC goes on Tuesday, while Doug Pederson and the NFC coaches will field questions from reporters on Wednesday. 

It'll be a busy few days with the beauty of Phoenix as the backdrop. 

Here are a few of the big Eagles storylines to keep an eye on.

Long time, no talk 
Reporters haven't had a chance to talk to Lurie since this week last year. A lot has happened since then. Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz went through their first seasons as coach and quarterback for the Eagles. Joe Douglas was hired as the team's vice president of player personnel. And Howie Roseman has continued to transform the roster through trades and free agency.

Last season was the first time Lurie spoke since reinstating Roseman to power, so despite Lurie's efforts to talk about RFID and next-generation stats, the conversation focused on the direction and leadership of the team. 

There's a ton to talk to Lurie about this year -- including his recently-penned piece in Time Magazine that railed against political polarization in Washington (see story).  

An hour with Doug 
This year, Philly reporters will actually be able to talk to Pederson at the NFC coaches breakfast on Wednesday. In 2016, most split their time between Chip Kelly and Pederson. 

At that point, Kelly was the 49ers' coach and had not yet talked about his split with the Eagles. 

But a whole hour with Pederson is on the schedule this year. Plenty of questions about the future of the franchise, the draft and the free-agent acquisitions. We haven't spoken to Pederson since the combine, which came before the team brought in Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Chance Warmack in free agency. 

Whatchu talkin' bout, Howie? 
Roseman talked a bunch last season as the 2016 NFL draft drew closer, but this offseason revealed that everything he said back then was nonsense. Last offseason was all about moving up to the No. 2 pick (at least) to draft Wentz and get the Eagles a franchise quarterback. 

One of the interesting things Roseman talked about in 2016 was taking running backs high in the draft. He praised Ezekiel Elliott, calling him a "rare" prospect. 

At that point, the Eagles were picking eighth and Elliott was thought to be a possible target for them. Here's what Roseman said last year: 

"You talk about the elite guys and where they're coming from, and they're hard to find. It's hard to find three-down backs, so when you get a chance to look at someone like that, it changes the discussion. They're certainly on your board."

The running backs in this year's draft aren't Elliott -- they're simply not as good at everything and not ready to step in and be stars. But by the way Roseman spoke last year, he didn't rule out taking a running back in the first round. This year, there will likely be a couple good ones on the board at No. 14. 

But remember, everything he said last year was just nonsense. 

For now, Roseman isn't scheduled to speak to reporters, but that could change. 

The rule proposals
The competition committee will meet this week to go over several proposals -- among them are 15 playing rule proposals. 

The Eagles originally proposed four playing rule changes and one proposal that would have allowed teams to wear alternate helmets to match alternate jerseys. Well, after feedback from the competition committee, the Eagles are withdrawing all but one proposal, according to league sources. 

The only proposal left would rule out leaping on kick plays. For now, players are allowed to leap as long as they don't touch anyone on the way over. This change had already been suggested by the NFLPA, so it seems like it has a good shot to pass. 

Among the other rules the NFL's competition committee will consider is one that would shorten the overtime period in the regular season from 15 to 10 minutes. The length would remain 15 minutes in the playoffs. 

The competition committee will meet to go over these proposals on Tuesday. 

NFL Notes: Raiders to Las Vegas should happen Monday with little delay

NFL Notes: Raiders to Las Vegas should happen Monday with little delay

PHOENIX -- Barring an unforeseen obstacle, the Oakland Raiders seem certain to get approval Monday to relocate to Las Vegas .

Several team owners have said this week they don't envision a scenario where Raiders owner Mark Davis doesn't get the required 24 votes to move the team.

One owner, speaking anonymously because he is not authorized to speak for the NFL, told The Associated Press: "Not only have no hurdles been made clear to us, but there isn't any opposition to it."

Added another, also speaking anonymously for the same reasons: "It's going to happen and the sooner we do it, the better it is for the league and for the Raiders."

Yes, the NFL is about to have a third franchise move in just over a year. The Rams played last season in Los Angeles after switching from St. Louis. Earlier this year, the Chargers moved from San Diego to L.A.

NFL: League hires Dr. Allen Sills as chief medical officer
PHOENIX -- The NFL has hired Dr. Allen Sills as its chief medical officer.

Sills, a neurosurgeon who has specialized in the treatment of athletes, will fill a new full-time position based in New York. He comes to the league from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he serves as professor of neurological surgery, orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation. He is the founder and co-director of the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center.

Sills, 52, will work with NFL team medical staffs, the NFL Players Association and its advisers, as well as experts on the league's medical committees. He will guide the NFL's health and research efforts.

"We sought a highly credentialed physician and leader with experience as a clinician and researcher, and Dr. Sills' extensive experience caring for athletes makes him the right choice for this important position," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.